Behind the Work: Ariel Fashion Shooter

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When you want to sell detergent to a group of people who consider laundry a chore, how do you do it?

A product demo, of course, albeit one with a twist.

Saatchi & Saatchi Stockholm put up a live installation in downtown Stockholm that allowed people to test out the stain-fighting power of Ariel's new line of detergent, but threw in a Facebook-controlled, customized industrial robot to make this product demo just that much more interesting.

P&G's brief for the product for Saatchi was simple: Make laundry interesting and engaging, despite an already crowded and traditional category. That in itself was no big deal, said Adam Kerj, ECD. "There isn't anything interesting going on in this category anyway, so that's not a huge challenge." So the jump from brief to the idea of a socially controlled robot happened pretty quickly, said Gustav Egerstedt, art director.

What it is
The idea was straightforward: An enclosed cube would house the customized robot arm, which would be filled with three types of stain-inducing sauces: lingonberry jam, chocolate drink and tomato ketchup. A thousand pieces of designer clothing would fly by, and users in Sweden, Denmark, Norway or Finland logging in through Facebook would be able to take turns controlling the robot and shoot the sauces at the clothes. If you hit something, it gets washed and shipped to you, for free.

The agency partnered with production company B-Reel to deal with the more challenging, technical obstacles. B-Reel, you might recall, has worked with robots before, on a project for with Mitsubishi out of 180 L.A., where users could drive Mitsubishi Outlander Sport remotely online, using robotics and cameras, to translate computer clicks into real movement.

The initial challenges on Ariel were, however, quite culinary. B-Reel says that some of the sauces had to be diluted so they wouldn't jam up the robot arm, but each sauce behaves differently when it's shooting through the air. "Controlling these sauces was a little challenging, and making sure they would actually get washed off was as well," says Lars Bjurman, creative director at B-Reel.

Technically, bigger challenges were sprouting up in the back-end of the program. The robot arm itself, designed by Atomgruppen, turned out to be quite simple. Crowd control on Facebook that was the tough part.

Lessons from Live Drive
Mitsubishi's "Live Drive" project "gave us a good starting position when it came to planning," said Bjurman. There too, users were queuing up to take a shot. "The really good thing [with Ariel] was that we were doing this on Facebook, where people are always hanging out for long periods of time anyway."

At any one time, queues could stretch as long as 300 minutes. "There is a technical innovation and challenge when it comes to keeping everyone in order, knowing who's dropping out," said Bjurman. "We developed a queue server handling all the users, that also brought in Facebook information." The teams also had to know which clothing had been hit and who it had to get shipped to after it was washed. "It was a real process to develop and make it fail-safe. We had to make sure everyone was treated equally."

Winners Rule
Saatchi was insistent that the game should not be impossible to win or even that difficult. "What we wanted was a generous ratio of winners so people would actually talk about what they had won and post it to their profiles," said Kerj. So the speed of moving garments had to be perfect too; too slow and the game would end quickly, too fast and nobody would win. How the cannon was controlled, how easy it was to aim and click. "We had a lot of tests so we could give the entire thing a playability feel," said Bjurman.

Kerj maintains that glitches gave the project a veneer of believability. "The robot went down now and then and people got thrown out of the queue despite being there for a few hours," he said. "Those hiccups give it a nerve of live feeling."

This was also one of the rare occasions where social outreach was not backed up by traditional media spend. In Denmark, the brand had put out a few television spots to spread the word about the stain-fighting robot, but in the rest of the markets, there was nothing. "It was creating the right hype," said Egerstedt. "We sent out clothes to fashion bloggers with a web address printed on them and just hoped that they would actually do it and write about it."

The Next Load
Looking ahead, Saatchi thinks the success of the project means it will be gutsier in the future about promoting non-traditional campaigns. "Next time, we'll keep a strong idea and make it more niche," said Kerj. "It makes people feel like they're exclusive and targeted when you don't have big television commercials promoting the work."

As for B-Reel, the work is a little boy's dream. "It was a genius idea to have this on Facebook, and I just hope the format gets bigger and we can full-screen it, and so on," said Bjurman. "I just want more robots in advertising."

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